Location: North Norfolk
Wanted: A solo female traveller wants an escorted touring holiday in Japan but is open to suggestions about alternatives. She’s flexible about dates and timings, and wants advice on what the best time to travel would be – and what she can expect for her budget. She hasn’t been on an escorted tour before so would like to know what it would be like to travel with a tour guide and other holidaymakers. Other tips about the destination or alternatives would be welcome.
29 Red Lion Street, Aylsham
Impression: The agency had one large desk within a womenswear shop. Brochures were neatly displayed, with a big Sandals poster behind the desk. The agent was smart, with a pink shirt matching the desk’s colour.
Service: I was acknowledged immediately and the agent showed me several different brochures to ascertain what was available. She knew about each tour operator – Titan Travel, Travelsphere, Cox & Kings, Wendy Wu, Riviera Travel and Mercury Holidays – and talked about group sizes, single supplements and whether tours might be cancelled due to lack of numbers. She checked availability with operators and rang the Travel Visa Company about travelling to London for a China visa. She noted flight times to ensure there were no long layovers and offered discounts – between £75 and £85 off – if I booked with her.
Quotes: Both quotes were Mercury Holidays’ escorted tours. The first was Treasures of Japan, in November, flying from Heathrow with Cathay Pacific, via Hong Kong, costing £3,499. The 11-day holiday visited Tokyo, Hakone National Park, Matsumoto Castle, Takayama, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Osaka. The second one was China and Japan’s Rail Odyssey, departing October from Heathrow for £3,778. It was a 15-day tour visiting Kyoto, Tokyo, Shanghai, Xi’an and Beijing.
Overall: The agent was determined to find the best deal – she was polite, keen and knowledgeable. The shopper would have booked if it had been genuine.
12 High Street, Cromer
Impression: The shop was brightly painted in orange, with tidy desks and a bureau de change. Large TV screens promoted offers, and staff uniforms reflected the agency decor.
Service: I was seen immediately as I was the only customer. The first agent was helpful but left to cover a shift at the Sheringham branch, so a colleague took over. We looked at brochures and while I was in the branch, I spotted an advertisement on the big screen for a Japan in Bloom cruise, so we explored Japan cruises and excursions. When prompted, the agent said insurance and currency could be arranged.
Quotes: Both quotes were escorted tours with Mercury Holidays departing from Heathrow in April, 2020. The 15-day China and Japan’s Rail Odyssey was £3,948. The agent said Japan is expensive so the option with China offered a good deal. The 11-day Treasures of Japan tour would be £3,599, and April would be a good time to see the blossom. I was later emailed prices for a Diamond Princess cruise with Princess Cruises, visiting Tokyo, Shimizu and Kobe, with the chance for excursions. It cost from £1,358 including flights.
Overall: Both agents were friendly, helpful and enthusiastic, and followed up with calls and prompt emails to check I had the information I needed.
9-11 High Street, Holt
Impression: The shop had two tidy desks in front of a brochure rack, with a small coffee table in the main area of the shop. The decor was clean and crisp. Staff were smart but not in uniform.
Service: Both agents greeted me immediately. One went to a cupboard to look for brochures, and the other talked about Japan becoming more popular. We looked at Wendy Wu and Mercury Holidays’ brochures and the agent called Mercury for availability. The Mercury brochure also featured an interesting Japan and China tour, and I was told I would need to visit the Chinese embassy in London to have my fingerprints taken for a China visa. The agency does not sell insurance as most customers are elderly.
Quotes: I was given a brochure along with a handwritten note on a compliment slip with prices for escorted tours with Mercury Holidays. The 11-day Treasures of Japan in June 2020 would leave from Heathrow with Cathay Pacific, for £3,669. The 15-day China & Japan’s Rail Odyssey would depart from Heathrow in June 2020 with Air China, for £3,719. The second was said to be good value, as China is cheaper than Japan.
Overall: The agents were friendly but the shopper was there quite a short time and had to keep asking for information.
Jasmine Payne, manager
“We get lots of requests for escorted tours because our customers like to be taken around, as they tend to be older. A solo female traveller booking for Japan is not a usual request – but we do have solo women travellers going elsewhere. I have one customer who goes to Japan each year and it is very expensive.”
All three agents recommended the same tours from Mercury Holidays, but the winning agent appeared most enthusiastic.
She was eager but not pushy to make the sale, ringing operators for advice and suggesting ideal choices, along with information and tips about escorted tours.
The Hays agents offered an interesting cruise alternative but the Holt Travel quotation lacked detail.
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